Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Special Education

The National PTA Legislative Checklist calls for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that further supports and improves the lives of more than 6.5 million eligible children, from infants through youth. Reauthorization must:

  • Include a statutory definition of family engagement in education based on National Standards for Family-School Partnerships within section 602 of IDEA.
  • Provide greater protections for the rights of children with special needs, as well as their families, to ensure access to resources and supports for high-quality education.
  • Require transition planning for qualifying students to begin no later than age 14, incentivizing school districts to employ appropriate staff to deliver services.
  • Support the inclusion of behavioral intervention plans in a student’s IEP and 504b plan.

One of the fundamentals of IDEA is the inclusion of Procedural Safeguards designed to enumerate the rights of both the student and family, and the school district when determining appropriate educational programs for students with special needs. These safeguards include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ right to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards, the method of submitting any complaints, and the mechanism for resolving disputes,
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to review in its entirety a student’s educational record
  • The right to participate in meetings to identify, evaluate, or place a student in a particular educational program, including the provisions of a free appropriate education for the student (FAPE)
  • The right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
  • The right to prior written notice on matters relating to the student
  • The right to give or deny consent before the school make take certain action with regard to the student
  • The right to disagree with decisions made by the school system

The Illinois PTA recognizes that the educational environment for students with special needs, as defined within the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), must consider the needs of the student as part of the planning process. One critical element of assessing student needs continues to be funding. Item 3c of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform calls for full funding of all mandated educational and special programs so that all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This position is expanded in Item 3g of the platform which calls for adequate appropriations for the education of special needs students.

In addition, we support the development of Social and Emotional Learning Standards (SEL) which provide content, skills, evaluation, and assessment at age appropriate levels as part of the curricula crafted by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

ESSA, Family Engagement, and Your PTA

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues to make progress, with the US Department of Education approving Illinois’s ESSA plan. In Congress, the House of Representatives has included funding for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in its appropriations bill. With the approval of the Illinois ESSA plan, attention now turns to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), or school districts in non-legalese, who must create their own ESSA implementation plans using the guidance of the state plan.

PTA’s Role in Planning

During the development of the state ESSA plan, Illinois PTA represented families in many of the committees and working groups that were developing various parts of the plan. Now that school districts are developing their plans, PTA councils and local PTA units have a role to play as well. ESSA requires that all stakeholders, including families, be included in the planning process, and PTAs are uniquely able to fill that role.

PTA councils and units should start the process by letting their school superintendent and school board know that they are interested in being involved in developing the district’s ESSA plan. Your school district should be supportive, as family and community engagement is one of the core elements of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM) that will measure how schools are doing overall. IBAM replaces the test-score-only approach of measuring a school’s success under No Child Left Behind.

For those who serve on school district committees for PTA, it is important to remember that they are representing PTA and families, not their personal opinion. The National PTA Federal Public Policy Agenda, ESSA advocacy tools, and ESSA Local Roadmap can help support your efforts. From Illinois PTA, our legislative platform provides information on our positions, and Education Issues Director Kelli Denard can help with questions you might have. Finally, Partners for Each and Every Child and the Council of Chief State School Officers jointly developed a handbook to help school districts and school leaders cooperate to effectively implement ESSA at the local level.

PTA’s Role in Family Engagement

Illinois has its Family Engagement Framework to help local districts implement effective family engagement practices. The four principles of the framework parallel the six National Standards for Family-School Partnerships developed by National PTA. National PTA has additional resources in its Family Engagement Toolbox.

Even if your PTA is not interested in getting involved with your school district’s ESSA plan development, you can be involved in improving family engagement in your school. The National PTA School of Excellence program has a proven track record of improving family engagement. Illinois PTA has highlighted the success that Kreitner Elementary PTA had in becoming a School of Excellence in 2016.

If you’re interested in making your school a School of Excellence this year, the signup deadline is October 1, 2017. Don’t delay, sign up today.

 

Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Juvenile Justice

The 2017-18 Federal Public Policy Agenda Checklist of the National PTA calls for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), reducing the number of youth unnecessarily involved in the justice system. Reauthorization must include that the juvenile justice system:

  • Incentivize family and community based alternatives to incarceration
  • Eliminate certain exceptions to the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders core requirement
  • Extend the Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation core requirements to all children under the age of 18 during all forms of detainment
  • Require states to establish solutions to reduce racial and ethnic disparities

Item 11 of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform addresses Juvenile Justice issues, calling for adequate programs on both state and local level for:

  • The prevention of juvenile delinquency
  • Services for early intervention for juvenile offenders
  • Treatment and separation of dependent and delinquent children in institutions and in Juvenile Court, as well as original exclusive jurisdiction over children and youth under age 18 to be in the Juvenile Court
  • Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 to age 25

In addition to these items found in the platform, the Illinois PTA holds continuing positions on the support and supervision of youthful offenders in residential facilities; support for the federal Juvenile Delinquency and Prevention Act, including adequate appropriations to facilitate the Act; a strong Juvenile Court System in Illinois recognizing that youthful offenders should not be treated in the same manner as adult offenders; and a Juvenile Justice system that is focused on rehabilitation.

These positions highlight a number of legislative successes. Illinois has raised the age of majority from 17 to 18 for the juvenile justice system. Juvenile offenders are now separated from adults when incarcerated. Redeploy Illinois, a program supported by Illinois PTA, is successfully reducing the rate of recidivism of youth also reducing costs by avoiding incarceration. During the state budget crisis, Illinois PTA pointed out that closure of Redeploy Illinois programs in 23 counties meant that 275 youth served by the program at a cost of $1.6 million would need to be incarcerated at a cost of $30.5 million. Illinois PTA’s report on consideration of how to handle “emerging adults,” (19 to 25) differently has received attention across the United States.

Just this year, with Illinois PTA support, Illinois now requires:

  • Restorative Justice training for all Dept. of Justice personnel (PA100-157)
  • Expansion of the ability to expunge juvenile arrest records (PA100-285)
  • Forbidding expulsion of children from pre-school programs (PA100-105)
  • Forbidding of booking stations in schools (PA100-204)

For further explanation, please refer to the 2017 National PTA Federal Public Policy Agenda, the Illinois PTA Report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice System, Ten Years of Progress (2009), and the complete Illinois PTA Legislation Platform.

 

Illinois PTA Statement on SB1947

Today, Governor Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 1947 (SB1947), the negotiated agreement of Senate Bill 1 (SB1), into law. While Illinois PTA supported SB1, we called for an override of the governor’s amendatory veto of SB1 and did not support SB1947.

Illinois PTA has long supported adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding of public schools, and SB1 was an important first step in improving the most inadequate and inequitable state education funding in the country. The process that resulted in SB1 took several years of research, negotiations, and public hearings. The result was a school funding formula that would put Illinois on a path towards guaranteeing every child in Illinois a high quality education regardless of their zip code.

After the Senate overrode the governor’s amendatory veto, the House was unable to do so, and a new agreement was negotiated over the weekend. This agreement was amended into SB1947, the details of which were not made public until Monday, just hours before the vote was taken. The Senate passed the new SB1947 on Tuesday.

While Illinois PTA applauds the new funding formula included in SB1947, which was essentially that of SB1, and believes it will begin the process of improving education funding in Illinois, there are items included in the agreement that Illinois PTA could not support:

  • The creation of a $75 million scholarship tax credit for private schools, which diverts public funds for non-public schools (see Illinois PTA Legislative Platform 3.a.). With Illinois schools receiving the worst level of state funding in the country and the state of Illinois having $15 billion in unpaid bills (a significant fraction of which are due public schools), Illinois PTA believes that any “extra” funding for education that the state “finds” should go to public schools.
  • Mandate relief that allows school districts to reduce the required number of days for physical education from five days per week to three. With childhood obesity continuing to grow, Illinois PTA believes that schools should be instrumental in helping children develop healthy habits such as daily exercise. In addition, as schools cut recess time, PE increasingly becomes the only time children have during the school day to be active, which is critical not only for their health but helps improve student achievement.
  • The creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Reform Task Force, while an important first step in discussing the effect TIF districts have on school funding, will not be subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information or Open Meetings requirements. Illinois PTA believes that this discussion deserves to be visible to the public and not hidden behind closed doors.

The new education funding formula is a significant victory for the children of Illinois, and Illinois PTA is proud to have been a leading advocate on their behalf. We are, however, disappointed that a crisis manufactured by the governor’s amendatory veto was used to create a scholarship/voucher program with no public hearings or debate, and we strongly encourage the General Assembly to not renew the program when it sunsets in five years.